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article imageReview: B.A. Pass – A Bollywood cult classic Special

By Craig Boehman     Aug 2, 2013 in Entertainment
Mumbai - Producers of B.A. Pass held a press screening for the erotic thriller Thursday night. The stars were in attendance, and the monsoon rains drove us all in to dry off inside the eye of director Ajay Bahl's perfect, cinematic storm.
B.A. Pass was adapted from the short story, “The Railway Aunty”, by Mohan Sikka. The screenplay is by Ritesh Shah.
Indian moviegoers will no doubt find plenty of contrasting elements in B.A. Pass compared to the standard fare of Bollywood song-and-dance, love affair flicks. If you want to sing along, you'll have to wait until the closing credits for the film's only song composed by Alokananda Dasgupta with lyrics by Rajeshwari Dasgupta. If you're looking for love, you'll have to ask yourself what the hell you're doing at the movies watching a film called B.A. Pass?
B.A. Pass follows the downtrodden journey of young Mukesh (Shadab Kamal) after the death of his parents. Taken in by his aunt, Mukesh struggles to earn a living while supporting his two younger sisters' education. He crosses paths with his future and self-proclaimed aunty, Sarika (Shilpa Shukla), and is all but forced by his economic plight into Delhi's dark world of prostitution. Unable to resist his teacher's seduction noir, the inexperienced Mukesh learns the tricks of the trade and is pimped out to Sarika's female middle-class clientele.
The film is a brooding study of dark subject matter, and the music score beautifully shadows tension and mood, punctuating long scenes of silence with accentuated deftness. A discerning film buff may be surprised by first-time director Bahl's handling of the content, which is neither stylistically overplayed or gratuitous. The sex scenes aren't raunchy by American standards, but they are impactful in the sense that they reveal the oppressed inner worlds of the film's characters, sometimes to comical effect; but more often than not sex is portrayed as a weapon to acquire money and power to escape one's accepted station in life — that pigeonhole known as fate.
Kamal plays the desperately-driven Mukesh artfully from the standpoint of an innocent whose life crescendos out of control. His transformation from boy to man, and from man to a disheveled, hunted beast, was believable enough that I didn't recognize the actor even when I shook his hand. Shukla's performance demonstrates the depths of her acting chops, convincing me that her character, a solidly poised, cynical and wise dominatrix-type, was in fact a real person — in stark contrast to the kindness and sincerity I encountered with her in person.
Screenshot of B.A. Pass movie poster.
Screenshot of B.A. Pass movie poster.
The supporting cast gave strong performances too, especially Mukesh's gravedigger friend, Johnny (Dibyendu Bhattacharya). More than just comic-relief, there's an obvious depth to Johnny, as can be expected from a chess enthusiast who critiques the styles of Russian grandmasters Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov. There's no shortage of foreshadowing here either when you take into account the history of the two Russian champions and whose style Mukesh and Johnny prefer.
Strong on substance, reality and grit, B.A. Pass takes the shine off Bollywood's golden facade just long enough to give us a glimpse into another plausible reality. The film respects the story so as not to come off preachy about the moral ambivalence towards prostitution and the unhealthy sexual relations that can develop between consenting adults. Instead, what Bahl's cast and crew accomplish is the cinematic mastering of a short story adaptation to the big screen. Forget about the moral implications — here's a story that's blunt and unapologetic, a narrative that straps us in to the character's shoes and compels us to follow along, a feat that's essential when viewers are summoned down the dark and winding paths of taboo and of passion.
More about BA Pass, Ajay Bahl, Bollywood, Alokananda Dasgupta
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